Pope condemns Lebanon raids as G8 converges and Blair blames Iran and Syria
As Israelís military strikes against Lebanon in the standoff against Hezbollah extend into the north as well as the south of the country, the Vatican has strongly protested against the air raids, condemning both terrorist acts and reprisals that violate national sovereignty and strike at innocent civilians.
Meanwhile the G8 summit in St Petersburg has agreed a cautious ëconvergenceí statement under great political pressure from all sides.
The rich country leaders initially fell short of a unanimous call for an immediate ceasefire. But they subsequently called for an end to violence through an international buffer force, announced an evacuation programme for international citizens caught up in the conflict, and rejected British PM Tony Blairís immediate verdict that Iran and Syria are the main culprits.
On Friday 14 July 2006, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, on Friday read a public statement which was broadcast on Vatican Radio.
It said: "As in the past, the Holy See condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other."
The Vatican said that Israel's right to self-defence "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations."
This morning, in his first public comments on the escalating crisis, Pope Benedict XVI said that violations "of law and justice" at the root of the conflict could not be used to sanction bloodshed.
Speaking from his holiday retreat in the Aosta valley in the Alps, he appealed to all sides to resume non-violent negotiations.
Declared the leader of the worldís 1.3 billion Catholics: "The causes of such fierce confrontation are unfortunately objective situations of violation of law and justice. But neither the terrorist acts nor the reprisals, above all when there are tragic consequences for the civilian population, can be justified."
The Pope said he was deeply concerned about violence in Lebanon, which has been pounded by Israeli air strikes. But he also cited the Hezbollah guerrillas' attack on Sunday 16 July 2006 on the Israeli city of Haifa, which killed eight people.
"History has shown no good will come of such conflict," he commented. "I pray that the responsible politicians are brought along the path of reason and open new possibilities for dialogue and understanding."
Israeli air strikes have continued since 12 July 2006. They have now killed and wounded hundreds of people, mostly civilians. The attacks have disabled power plants, destroyed bridges, and severed major highways.
The death toll in Lebanon is estimated at least 200. Hezbollah has killed around 20 people. Israelís understanding of ëproportionate responseí is not based on equivalence but on its ësecurity interestsí, it says, while the Arab militant group has promised revenge ëwithout limití.
Observers say that Israel has the capacity to do much more damage, but tragically the two sides appear to share an ideology of redemptive violence and security or political advance through aggression and military response.
From their quarters in Lebanon, Hezbollah guerillas have launched a series of rocket attacks on targets well inside Israel.
On Sunday 16 July at least eight people were killed and dozens were injured in an attack on Haifa. Earlier, Christian pilgrims Nazareth, on the Sea of Galilee were hit by several rockets.
Cardinal Sodano said that the latest developments in the Middle East, if allowed to continue unchecked, "risk degenerating into a conflict with international repercussions."
There have been some calls for world religious leaders of all persuasions to go to the region personally to intervene and to act as peacemakers.
[Also on Ekklesia: Christians call for end to Lebanon violence as Israel vows revenge 16/07/06; Middle East Christians in anguish over Lebanon violence 14/07/06; Embattled Hezbollah backs Iraq 'doves of peace'; Christian warnings substantiated as Israel targets Hamas; Ex-spy wages peace on terror in the Middle East; UK church and aid agencies concerned over Gaza situation; Presbyterians threatened over Israel policy; The Forgotten Church [File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat]; Global faith gathering tackles religious roots of terror]